Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

Downer leaves Adani in the lurch


Yesterday came an announcement of the parting of the ways of Adani and 'mining services giant' Downer. I didn't see this coming, not this side of Christmas at any rate. It is the best present you could have given me, guys. It's even better than the whacky ring I discovered at The Big Design Market in Melbourne at the beginning of December and is hopefully on its way from Sydney right now.

Who pulled the plug on whom? Adani explained that, without the financial support they'd been hoping for, they would have to cut costs by running the mine on an owner-operator basis. Many experts doubt that Adani has the capability to handle such a large operation in Australia, which has only a couple of mine contractors up to the scale of the job, and one of those is Downer. From Downer's point of view, the last few months have seen them under increasing pressure from protestors, from the streets of state capitals to remote start-up construction sites in Central Queensland; at their Annual General Meeting in Sydney and in state council offices where they do smaller-scale business. Maybe they crave a quieter, more sustainable life in 2018.

According to the Australian Financial Review, Downer left Adani, which it was entitled to do if the project was not up and running by 30 November 2017, three years since they were hired. With Adani's finances still uncertain, Downer, it seems, got cold feet.

There have been several snippets of good news this month. There were the three Chinese banks identified as potential backers of Adani's Carmichael coal mine project should the Indian miner not be successful in obtaining AUS$1 billion from the federal government's secretive NAIF (Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility). As climate action groups prepared to take to the streets outside head offices, each bank in turn announced they would not be stumping up for Adani. Next, after an agonising two-week wait for confirmation she could continue as Queensland's premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk kept her promise and wrote to PM Turnbull to veto the NAIF loan for Adani to construct a rail line from pit to port.

But last Saturday came a timely reminder that climate activists can never rest.


Ms Rinehart has an interest in three of the Galilee Basin's mines (Alpha, Alpha West and Kevin's Corner), and she too needs a rail line to a coal-exporting terminal, preferably one not owned by the competition. She's been quietly busy backing a different horse, rail freight company Aurizon, state-owned Queensland Rail in its former life. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone.

Aurizon had already invested in a rail line venture with Hancock, Rinehart's company, and her partner, another Indian mining company, GVK, but in 2015 seemed to doubt the scheme would ever go ahead, reflected as a write-down in its half-yearly financial statement. The company has, however, lodged a NAIF application. Queensland's new Treasurer, Jackie Trad, was unable to confirm yesterday whether her government would also veto a NAIF loan for Aurizon. It will be discussed in Cabinet, she said. 

Aurizon want $1.5 billion to build a 'multi-user rail link' into the Galilee. It would serve GVK Hancock's mines plus Waratah's Galilee Coal Project, also in the south of the region, linking them all to existing rail infrastructure in the Bowen Basin further east. An offshoot line to Adani's mine in the north could quite feasibly be added, on the way to Abbot Point coal port.

All the Galilee mines pose a huge risk to Great Artesian Basin groundwater supplies that make cattle stations and life itself in arid Central Queensland possible. Waratah's mine would lay waste Bimblebox Nature Refuge, with its remnant Desert Upland vegetation, six ecosystems and 155+ bird species. The battle for Bimblebox has been fought for ten years already. This is what I wrote four years ago, at about this time of year, and before Adani was the biggest baddie in the Basin. 

I received an email this morning from a friend in the UK with whom I'd shared yesterday's news because he's into train tracks. 'What will you do when you no longer have Downer to shout about,' he asked. Well… downing Downer was a significant success, but winning the war on coal has some way to go, and especially here in Australia. Adani's is just one mine sitting atop a huge coal deposit in one region of a vast mineral-rich country that is addicted to mining and has so far acquired little sense of urgency about climate breakdown.


Quote at top of page and image above courtesy of the ABC

Portland, city of books

Portland, city of books

It was anyone's guess